With no openly gay footballers in the top divisions, will Thomas Hitzlsperger prompt others to come out? David Marples wonders if it’s about time…
Following the week that Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed his homosexuality to the world and was rightly applauded in almost all quarters (including The Sun) for his coming out, one wonders when the day will come when a footballer still plying his trade in a high profile league will share similar revelations.
One also wonders about the nature of the consequent reactions from players, fans and the numerous inhabitants of planet football to where we all scurry off in order to escape life’s everyday trials and tribulations. What if a current Forest player came out?
Football continues to get its fair share of blame for many of the current ills in society, and Lord knows it deserves it most of the time. It is difficult to defend blatant diving, hounding of referees, racism, arrogant young men flashing their cash and the obscene amounts of money involved in the game. Actually, that last point isn’t so hard to defend. Of course footballers are overpaid and the wages earned are alienating and arguably distasteful and unjustified. However, if the market dictates it then that is the going rate.
That is not to say that a footballer deserves more money than a nurse or a soldier or any other worthy occupation, it’s just to say that the global reach of football and the demand for the game from all parts of the world is difficult to digest; some of these players are not just superstars, they are worldwide icons. Galacticos is a word dripping with negative connotations of arrogance but in many words, it is a perfect world to denote such players and their status which rivals the world’s most iconic film stars in terms of fame. In short, the amount of money surrounding the game at the highest level, which comes into clubs as a result of such players and the demand for them, should come as no surprise when wages are revealed.
Deserved? Still no but they are a global brand in themselves. There’s no point blaming the players or indeed the game for creating and generating so much money. If you were to write a mega successful Christmas song which enjoyed hard rotation each year and earned you squillions, would you hand it back explaining that you don’t feel you’ve deserved it? Thought not.
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But is there a case to defend football for its reaction within the game to Hitzlsperger’s revelations? After all, he has been praised for his bravery and all this after Robbie Rogers enjoyed a warm reception on his return to Elland Road recently after coming out… at Elland Road!
Maybe we football fans are more tolerant than we thought. We’ll happily welcome and embrace anyone, no matter their race or background, as long as they produce the goods on the pitch. Think about that for a moment: in the world of football, you can be not only tolerated but revered, regardless of your race or background. What a social utopia this game of ours is: we don’t accuse Radi Majewski of being a job-stealing Pole; any criticism of Fawaz rarely alludes to his nationality; Guy Moussi’s wayward touches do not inspire a torrent of racist abuse.
Now, you may well know different from me and the picture I paint above may well be a totally alien one from the one you know. And let’s be clear here: racism and sexism are certainly not eradicated from the game and there is a long way to go. But it’s better than it used to be, isn’t it?
As for homophobia? We’re in undiscovered country regarding this. My attention was drawn this week to a piece in which Graeme Le Saux recounted his experiences while playing for Chelsea and pretty reading it ain’t:
Andy Townsend got on the bus to a game and saw me reading the paper, picked it up and said he wanted to look at the sport. He threw it back down a couple of seconds later. “There’s no f***ing sport in here,” he said. The rest of the lads laughed.
And there’s more:
Pretty soon, opposition players were winding me up about it. I was in my second spell at Chelsea when the real problems began. From the time the rumours first surfaced, I got plenty of comments from other players about being a “faggot” or a “queer”. Robbie Savage seemed to get a particular thrill out of it, but I guess that will not surprise anybody.
The most insidious aspect to this for me is that both Townsend and Savage now enjoy high profile roles as pundits spouting their views as gospel to millions. It just goes to show what a closed shop this punditry malarkey is: of course you can have a job with us, you’ve played the game and although you are clearly an obnoxious bigot and simply describe what you see on a replay, you’ve got charisma and are outspoken and something of a ‘character’; have a job.
But maybe that’s just the way of the world and I should stop getting my frilly knickers in such a twist about it. It’s called banter and it happens in all sport at all levels. Even cricket. Especially in cricket. The only difference is that in cricket there’s a technical term for it: ‘sledging’, and it’s an art form which earns its best exponents plaudits and praise (and even a presenting job if your name’s Phil Tufnell; have a job).
But back to the question of whether football, footballers and football fans are ready for an openly gay footballer. I would like to think that it, they and we are. Think back to how football fans generally disregard a player’s baggage as long as he performs on the pitch. Now, you may be one step ahead of me here and are about to point out that it’s not home support of which we should be wary but how such a player will be treated by opposing fans…………….. that pause there…………. that’s me considering the abuse a gay player would receive away from home were he to take a corner kick or a throw-in or, whisper it, dare to score a goal in front of the home end. Not pretty. It’s human nature to draw attention to someone’s most noticeable feature should we wish to belittle them; unfortunate but true.
Maybe we aren’t quite ready for gay footballers. Maybe we need to continue to work on racism and sexism in football grounds. Maybe I should take my Guardian-reading self and my ideas and ‘do one’ since football has been gentrified quite enough over the years thank you to the extent that the proletariat is priced out of the football experience and generations of youngsters now go to the pub on Saturday afternoons to consume their football now since it’s cheaper, more enjoyable and you can buy decent beer there. I get that but I would like to think that supporters of the club would get right behind such a player and support him to the hilt and that might make up for the abuse such a player would face away from home. You never know, there might even be a gentle round of polite applause and recognition from a quiet corner of the ground from opposing fans.
Idealistic? Perhaps but although there’s still a long way to go, I certainly couldn’t imagine a player coming out back in the 80s whereas now, if I squint really hard, I can just about, through the fog, visualise a current player coming out.
Follow David on Twitter: Follow @DavidMarples
Image: Courtesy of Stonewall